Monthly Archives: January 2017

FM Radio speaker support returns to Windows 10 Mobile

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One of the biggest disappointments for some people in the move to Windows 10 Mobile from Windows Phone 8.1 was that the old 8.1 FM Radio application from Nokia/Microsoft was axed from the Store. ‘Just grab a third party app’, I hear you say. Not so fast – only the Microsoft first party app had access to the phone’s loudspeaker – and this seems crucial for many people, venting their sadness here. Happily, there’s now a solution, with Chinese developer MoeMe working out which specific OS call to make to restore speaker operation – I’m impressed. In any case, ‘FM Radio’, or ‘调频广播’ in Chinese (this name may not display on your device!) is now in the Store and free to trial, with (in theory) a 79p purchase price if you wish to reward MoeMe for his efforts!

From the slightly confusing (but you get the gist) Store entry, translated by the developer himself by machine!:

The following description is based on Google Translate. The APP does not apply to all of the windows phone (support 920, 830,930 and so on the original with the radio phone), because the 10586 system update, Lumia official FM radio disappeared, after the exploration program although deleted, FM Radio the bottom of things are, the trial program for free, after all, is the time to study the underlying costs of the API, try to restore the original operation.

Features: 1, headset speaker free to switch (this is not the third-party FM Radio 8.0 has the function) 2, timing off function. 3, can not think of.

Known BUG: May play a few minutes later, suddenly no sound, and then a few minutes and there may be a relationship with the underlying.

Anyway, what you really want to know is whether it works – and the answer is a resounding yes. The interface is incredibly minimalist, is horribly white/bright, and there are more than a few minor glitches. But it works, playing in the background over the phone’s speaker (if your phone has an FM Radio antenna and supported chipset, of course).

Here are some screenshots as proof:

Screenshot, FM Radio

It’s not entirely clear whether the trial version is limited – the 79p ‘Buy’ might just be a way of supporting the developer?

Screenshot, FM Radio

A minimalist interface (oh for a dark theme!), but the vital ‘switch to speaker’ menu function is there!!!

Screenshot, FM Radio

And it all works, with programmes playing over my Lumia 950 XL speaker even under the latest W10M Fast ring builds. Also shown here are ‘favourite’ and ‘station list’ controls.

Screenshot, FM Radio

Tapping on the station list brings up a control to swipe between frequencies, though there’s no way to rename these to something helpful. At least not yet. Maybe this is a ‘version 1’ etc?

Screenshot, FM Radio

There’s not much in terms of Settings either – USA, Japan and ‘World’ are supported, with presumably some auto detection of names in the first two regions? Low battery detection is a nice touch.

Not shown here but also useful is a sleep timer, so you can set FM Radio to turn off after a set playback time, perhaps while you drift off to sleep.

You can grab this in the Store here. Comments welcome – I do wonder whether MoeMe’s secret will get out and then we could have this functionality restored to all other FM Radio apps with more sophisticated interfaces.

PS. This also works well with my own Equaliser customisations for the Lumia 950 XL (and other device) speakers.

Source / Credit: Store

Windows 10 Mobile Release Preview 14393.726 hits…

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Release Preview update

There’s no official changelog yet, we may only ever get one as part of the production release in early February, but I’ll update this if one such appears.

Anyway, better to be safe than sorry, so definitely update and, as usual, there might be a security implication that’s under the hood. Watch this space for more news of the various Insiders rings over the next few weeks.

Anyone with a smartphone running the ‘Release Preview’ Insiders ring of Windows 10 Mobile ‘Anniversary Update’ will get this update over-the-air soon. Your phone will tell you within a few hours, or you can check manually in Settings/Updates & Security/Phone update. Stay patched and up to date out there!

Review: HP Elite x3 Lap Dock part 2 (real world use)

Score:
66%

In part 1 of my HP Elite x3 Lap Dock review, I looked at the hardware proposition in detail, along with some initial impressions and teething problems. In part 2, I look at what it’s like to use the Lap Dock with cables as part of a real world mobile computing set-up. And, yes, this entire review part is being written on the x3 Lap Dock, away from home, as a real world test.

Hooked up to the Lap Dock

Hooked up to the HP Lap Dock – when it works it’s utterly brilliant! When it doesn’t it’s unbelievably frustrating. More reliable firmware please, HP!

Let’s start with a few bullet point conclusions (at at least as at the current firmware, ‘T0057’):

  • The keyboard really is excellent, with a great action and size – touch typing is a doddle. I can’t emphasise the quality of this aspect of the Lap Dock enough. The backlight can be very useful and it’s handy to have three brightness settings for this – there’s some light bleed out if you view the keyboard from the side, but it’s perfect when in ‘position’.
      
  • Bizarrely, when typing, the connected Elite x3 reacts to every keystroke with auto-correct word suggestions. It’s possible that this is intentional, so that the phone besides the Lap Dock becomes a secondary text acceptance screen of sort, but I found it extremely annoying and distracting – and there seems to be no way to turn this behaviour off.
     
    Text suggest
      
  • Most editing keystrokes work as expected, but note that you can’t use the trackpad to ‘click and drag to select’ text as you would on a normal laptop or netbook – the trackpad isn’t quite that complete. You can click to position the text cursor, you can double click to highlight words or sentences, and so on, but don’t expect too much here.
      
  • Talking of the trackpad, it’s as poor as I implied in the first review part, I’m afraid. For simple things it works acceptably, but the flexible material used and the button arrangement make for a frustrating experience. Looking at the trackpad layout, it’s not immediately obvious what the problem is here – it’s that although the whole bottom half of the trackpad clicks down (as if you’re performing a left or right click), nothing happens at all unless you’re within about 1cm of the bottom left or right corners. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve clicked down on the trackpad to do something while typing (so reaching down without looking precisely) and found that nothing happens because the clicked spot wasn’t close enough to a corner. This can be fixed in firmware, I believe, by enlarging the detection areas – it remains to be seen if HP takes the hint here.
     
  • Reconnections are a huge problem. In theory, when connecting wirelessly or through a USB Type C cable to the Lap Dock should be a piece of cake – the latter should take over the pointer input and keyboard from the phone. Except that it often doesn’t. After some happy typing, I’d put the Lap Dock into sleep mode and go off to do something else, I’d come back, press the wake/power button and… (after the usual ten seconds or so) the Continuum display is there but there’s no mouse cursor and the keyboard doesn’t work. Occasionally it would come back after a number of further seconds, sometimes it required a complete restart of both Lap Dock and phone before it all worked properly again, and every combination of events in between. It’s simply… unreliable. Again, this is a firmware issue and one that I firmly (pun intended) hope that HP’s engineers have solved in the labs and is even now inbound to production Lap Docks via the ‘HP Device Hub’ update method.
     
  • When connecting anything to ports on the Lap Dock’s right hand side, you’ve usually got to brace the left hand side and – guess where HP has put the sleep/wake button? You guessed it, in practice it’s extremely easy to power down the Lap Dock by mistake when you’re in the middle of something and want to (e.g.) plus in the power cord or a USB storage device (both via Type C). The button would have been much better placed on or above the main keyboard, as it usually is on traditional laptops. 

________________

On the whole, if you’re careful, the Lap Dock works well and performs as advertised – a casual glance from others should impress them. However, when everything goes pear shaped and you’re with company (co-workers, family, whatever) it can get really embarrassing. Anecdotally, this is one scene that played out yesterday, with family. I wanted to stream YouTube videos on the Lap Dock screen (easy) and then onto the big screen TV in the living room in my dad’s house via the (micro)HDMI out cable (not supplied, but I bought one and tested it back at base beforehand, so I know it worked perfectly).

“This is some new tech and should make finding YouTube videos and playing them faster and easier!” I said confidently.

Alas, the next ten minutes were an exercise in frustration all round. The phone and Lap Dock eventually connected, but try as I might, restarting the Lap Dock, reconnecting the HDMI cable, toggling the special function key, nothing appeared on the TV screen. Now, tech often goes wrong, I’ll admit, but in this case I’d sounded so confident and by the time I’d finished I had littered the room with (deep breath):

  • the HP Elite x3
  • Type C cable (to the Lap Dock)
  • Lap Dock
  • microHDMI-to-HDMI cable
  • USB mouse
  • USB Type C-to-type A dongle (to connect said USB mouse to the Type C input port)
  • the HP Type C power cable

I was surrounded by wires and bits of kit and the TV screen was still blank. (And yes, I had to inputs/source set right.) It was embarrassing enough for me with my family – if this was your boss and colleagues then you’d be sinking into the floor at this point. I’m sure I could have fiddled some more and finally got results, but at some point you lose the goodwill in the room. In a business context, people saying “Why not just bring a proper laptop?”, and in a domestic context “Why not just use a £30 Chromecast?”

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I don’t want to sound too negative, when the Lap Dock works it works really well – especially if you appreciate how cool it is in the first place – but when it doesn’t work then it’s a potential disaster.

HP can help themselves greatly by putting more effort into QA and producing bug-fixed firmware for the Lap Dock. Every single time a user connects up, the Lap Dock should respond in terms of keyboard and trackpad/pointer. And every single time the wake button is pressed there needs to be a resumption of the Continuum session, and within a couple of seconds, not after ten or fifteen.

I’m hoping that they haven’t shipped many out to production/retail as yet, because otherwise there will be complaints and there will be returns.

Continuum is a really nice idea, and elegantly done, but it’s demonstrably unfinished (multi-window and much more is coming in Redstone 3, scheduled for the end of 2017). The HP Lap Dock is a really nice product too, beautifully engineered apart from the trackpad, yet it’s hobbled by buggy firmware at the moment. The Elite x3 smartphone is a super bit of kit on the whole, with (again) some things that need addressing in terms of firmware. Put all three of these together, linked in a chain to go from the phone’s processor through a secondary display API to a physical laptop shell, and you can see how the various ‘unfinished’ elements could work together to produce exactly the sort of random issues that I’ve been seeing.

I wanted to show the HP Lap Dock on video too, demonstrating general use and also some of the issues. Grab a cup of coffee or similar and sit back, this is a 15 minute video – shot on a Lumia 950 XL (if you’re interested) and somewhat crudely trimmed in YouTube’s built-in editor (ditto!):

So – in summary – we have a (largely) well made accessory, but with buggy firmware and a price that makes no sense for anyone, whether individuals or businesses. Can HP turn this around with bug-fixed firmware and a price drop? Let’s hope so, as the concept is currently ridden with issues.

In the final review part, and allowing a week or two for HP to deliver an update, I’ll round this all up and include analysis of perhaps the most vital factor of all (for most people and businesses) – the Lap Dock’s price.

Reviewed by at

AAWP Insight #204: City Art Search

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In this week’s podcast, by popular demand, I get on another developer guest, Brian Kernan (CityArtSearch on Twitter), chatting about his free fine art application that aims to educate us all, whether mobile or not, in terms of art around the world.

Show Notes

Here are the show notes and links you might need:

This podcast was recorded on January 23rd, 2017. Do shout if you have other developer suggestions – who would you like to see ‘on air’?

You can see more of our podcasts in the Media section of the site.

AAWP Insight Podcast Information

The AAWP Insight Podcast is an episodic audio show which features recordings from trade shows, opinion pieces and discussion.

You can subscribe to the podcast via RSS by using the buttons below:

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Disqus UWP app finally matures

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Although Disqus’s UWP app is still technically ‘beta’, an update yesterday has made a big difference to stability and, for the first time, I feel that I can screenshot and even recommend it. As usual, this will work on phone, Continuum displays, tablets, hybrids and laptops. It’s a good way to take in replies to your various forum comments on sites across the web.

You may rememeber the old Windows Phone 8.1 application, covered three years ago here? This is the new Windows 10 UWP app and is totally different(!)

From the brief description in the Store:

• Access to the thousands of new Disqus channels

• Create discussions on channels in the app

• Upload images for your comments and discussions

• New notifications

• New feed filters

• Design enhancements

Here’s the Disqus UWP app in action – having tried the last few beta and run away screaming from ‘null exception’ type errors, this one’s mature and useable – time to drop the ‘Beta’ tag, methinks?

Screenshot, Disqus UWPScreenshot, Disqus UWP

Nice clear navigation around the application – the red flag under Notifications (of course) lets you know how many new replies there are to comments you’ve made across all Disqus-powered web sites (like this one); (right) Plenty to fiddle with under Settings, here opting to sort all new replies by their Disqus rating, and to follow the phone’s theme (dark, of course, all my phones are AMOLED-screened!)

Screenshot, Disqus UWPScreenshot, Disqus UWP

You can just explore the Disqus world, of course, with Disqus’s in-house team curating some of the top discussions from around the web; (right) or dive into your comments and replies, here listed by thread.

Screenshot, Disqus UWPScreenshot, Disqus UWP

…and then replying inline, in the application – it’s got to be easier than using Disqus in a phone web browser, right? (right) there’s a live tile too, just showing notification numbers, but this is absolutely fine and uses very little in terms of resources.

You can grab the Disqus UWP app here, recommended – it’s safe to jump on board the ‘beta’ now!

Source / Credit: Store